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Gender Equality: Argentina’s Pipe Dream?

Despite recent advances, the road to equality is rocky.

By | [email protected] | September 14, 2018 3:12pm

(Photo via Milángela Galea/La Cultura Nuestra).
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The history of gender politics in Argentina is a tale of ongoing tensions. Even as the country begins to face up to the nefarious legacy of toxic masculinity and machismo culture, Argentina remains one of the countries with the highest rate of femicides in the world and as the recent failed attempt to legalize abortion proves, cultural notions of gender roles and propriety have been slow to change.

A concrete solution to the issue of gender inequality is the issue of equal pay. Though achieving total parity means overturning many widely-held social preconceptions, one core means of re-establishing the gender power dynamic is to ensure that men and women have equal financial power, especially at a time when Argentina’s economy is in such disarray.

In times of crisis, women are often the most vulnerable sector of society, in what economists and political observers often refer to as the “Feminization of Poverty.” This term describes the social phenomenon in which the cycle of poverty widens the gap between men and women, as women find themselves doubly marginalized by both their gender and their social status, often taking on more precarious, informal jobs while still assuming the lion’s share of household chores.

(Photo via Ministerio de la Hacienda).

In an interview with Página12, Lucia Cirmi Obon, economist from the Interdisciplinary Center for the Study of Public Policies (Ciepp) said that the roots of the wage gap lie at home. “There is a wage gap because there is inequality in the home,” she said. “They are two sides of the same coin.”

She added that Macri’s attempt to reduce the fiscal deficit by slashing public services would also impact women. “When the State becomes smaller,” she said, “it stops providing care services, and when that happens, the ones who take charge are women in the homes.”

In Buenos Aires, paid paternity leave was increased in July to encourage co-parenting and a more equal division of household labor. Although this measure makes Argentina a leader in the region, this is yet to have an impact on the deeply-entrenched gender roles prolific in the national consciousness. Argentina’s nickname is the “Land of Contrast” and this is starkly evident when it comes to the apparent gulf between the country’s legislative drive to liberalize social policies and the realities of cultural norms, which evolve at a much slower rate.

One of the clearest manifestations of this inequality is the gender wage gap. In January, a study showed that in Argentina, women earn on average 27 percent less than their male counterparts, while among workers with incomplete secondary education, this raises to a staggering 45 percent.

In Córdoba, Argentina’s second most-populous province, a recent study carried out by the Federation of Professional Entities of Córdoba (Fepuc) showed that women earn on average 22 percent less than men. The survey reveals that in Córdoba province, half of the male workforce work for 9 hours per day or more, with an average salary of AR $36,524 (US $917.37). Meanwhile, 30 percent of women work the same hours but for an average earning of AR $28,342 (US $711.68).

OECD. (Photo via IISD).

Meanwhile, 7 out of 10 professionals in Córdoba are college graduates, a percentage that is not reflected in statistics. When there is a culture of gender inequality, qualifications do not necessary guarantee equal wages. On Tuesday, the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) published a report showing that in Argentina, women are on average better qualified than men, but face a greater struggle in finding a job and will generally receive a lower salary, as more is required of them to reach the same positions as men.

And then, even when women do find a job and receive an equal salary to their male counterparts, cultural preconceptions mean that they still find themselves as the victim of discrimination. Despite advances, there are still many jobs that are considered to be “masculine” or “feminine” in Argentina, and women who digress from their starkly-delineated roles find themselves the victim of harassment and hostility.

(Photo via Ruben Digilio/Clarín).

A recent article by Clarín demonstrated that female taxi drivers are one of the most visible manifestations of this issue. Though in theory, they receive the exact same rates as male drivers, women driving taxis are faced with a level of stereotyping, harassment and aggression that men simply do not experience.

By inserting themselves into the macho-dominated world of taxi drivers, these women become subject to a barrage of abuses for daring to step out of their starkly-delineated zones. Even if women have made the transition from the private to the public sphere, there are still culturally-set norms of “acceptable” roles that they can take, and woe betide any woman daring to step outside these limits.

At present, women represent just 1 percent of Buenos Aires’ 39,417 registered taxi drivers and the Government of Buenos Aires this week announced a scheme to integrate 2,000 more female drivers into the city’s fleet, but female taxi drivers say that measures need to be introduced so that women who take on “masculine” jobs do not face hostility.

President Mauricio Macri has long pledged to reduce gender inequality, although this has met with varying levels of success. This week, deputies began debating the bill presented by Macri on International Women’s Day, that would entrench gender wage parity in Argentine law. However, the bill has already run into opposition. In a meeting on Tuesday, there were clashes between government officials and female trade unionists, who questioned the official project and accused it of being a “covert labor reform.”

Karina Banfi, representative for Buenos Aires province, argued, “this is not a new issue for the Executive, nor is it opportunistic.” She added that in the Lower House there were “160 bills on gender equality but none have ever been treated.”

However, Vanessa Siley, director of the Union of Judicial Workers of the City, staunchly criticized the project. “We are discussing a bill that has a nice title, but that will not lead to equality and will take away the main tools to defend our rights,” she said. “To end the wage gap, we must first end occupational segregation, and that more women are hired and their rights are guaranteed. We need businessmen to collaborate and, if they do not, to have sanctions imposed.”

The drive to achieve gender equality is part of an international move to stamp out discrimination. In a meeting on Thursday hosted by the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (Cepal), Latin American and Caribbean authorities signed the “Panamá Declaration,” in which they pledged to tackle the inequalities faced by women, people of African descent and indigenous groups, in a bid to eliminate the structures that generate inequalities and create situations of discrimination, violence and social exclusion.

Gender equality will also be a key talking point at the G20 conference at the end of November, hosted this year by Argentina. Discussions on gender equality will fall broadly into four main sectors: labor inclusion, digital inclusion, financial inclusion and rural development. This year’s G20 has highlighted gender equality in its mission statement:

“As a result of structural inequality, policy action has different implications for women and men. That is why it is mandatory for our presidency to foster a gender mainstreaming strategy across the whole agenda. We know that the only way to achieve truly fair and sustainable development is by ensuring that women and men will benefit equally from it.”

(Photo via G20).

The attempt to enshrine equal pay in law is a timely move that could prove to be embarrassing for Argentina should it fail, since as the G20’s host nation, the country is under pressure to practice what it preaches. Time will tell whether Macri’s bill will come to fruition, but the gender wage gap is but a symptom of latent cultural practices that have been slow to shift. Perhaps the impetus afforded by the G20 will drive this bill and a wider cultural shift, but until then, the eyes of the world will be watching Argentina closely.